Healing Earth, Healing Society, Healing Self

“We have to be angry but humble… We have to fight joyfully.”

This statement came from 2010 Right Livelihood Award Laureate Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist from Nigeria, during one of the learning sessions of the Chulalongkorn University Right Livelihood Summer School (CURLS). Centered around the theme, “Healing Earth, Healing Society, Healing Self,” CURLS is an experiential learning journey that aims to promote the concept of Right Livelihood by living rightly on earth.

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Plagued by neoliberalism, characterized by liberalization of trade and investment, privatization of goods and services, and changing of public regulation to support corporate interest, the earth has been treated as a commodity. The market considered as its very soul results to materialism and complete disregard of our impact to the environment. Changing this deeply rooted mindset can be frustrating. It angers me as an environmentalist. Yet “We have to be angry but humble…”

I do my part and expect others to do the same. At the expense of sounding preachy, paired with occasional bursts of exasperation, I point out how we’re not doing much. How we can’t even do the most basic things like segregating waste or refusing single-use plastic! We even reason how individual choices wouldn’t matter as long as corporations continue what they’re doing.  Being angry and humble at the same time sure is becoming more challenging.

During CURLS, learning about the disappearance of Laotian Sombath Somphone, a dedicated community and development worker, was heart-breaking. Environmentalists, activists, earth’s healers, those who fight for what is right, are being harmed for the work that they do. This elicits anger and fear but Sombath’s wife Shui Meng Ng encourages us to keep on fighting. And we have to fight joyfully in spite of it all.

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“Please return Sombath safely.”

Sulak Sivaraksa, another Right Livelihood Award Laureate, said that before you heal the world, you should heal yourself first and be liberated from structural violence. Sulak mentions of an ideal society where there is equality, fraternity, and liberty from greed, hate, and delusion.

Perhaps we should learn from Bhutan which uses Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a measure of development, a departure from the usual Gross Domestic Product, or as Nnimmo refers to as “Gross Domestic Problem.” The fact that Bhutan has never been colonized, practicing Buddhist culture, made it easy to embrace the idea of GNH which is about holistic development and collective happiness. For GNH, there are nine interdependent domains being considered namely health, education, living standards, time use, psychological well-being, cultural diversity and resilience, community vitality, good governance, and ecological diversity and resilience.

Another example worth emulating is the communal living of the Konohana Family, an eco-village in Japan. They practice sustainable agriculture, they follow the law of the universe, and everyone contributes to the community.

Chulalongkorn University where trees abound, birds and squirrels freely roam about amidst busy students transported in electric buses, right at the center of a highly-urbanized city like Bangkok was the perfect learning environment for CURLS. It made me appreciate the idea of nature and modernity co-existing.

In a predominantly selfish society, there are still those who fight joyfully. Those who remain connected to the earth. Through CURLS, I met some of these people. I also learned valuable insights that could help me towards my path to healing the earth, the society, and myself.

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CURLS 2018 Participants

 

 

 

Photo Credit: CURLS 2018 Organizers

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Commune with Nature at Mount Purro

Go on a hike and enjoy the air’s freshness of the forest.

Savor the generous helpings of freshly prepared healthy dishes (you can request for vegan/vegetarian options, too!).

Sleep in cozy kubo-style cabins and let the sound of crickets and the flowing brook serve as your lullaby.

Take a dip in the pool.

Bond with your barkada in the game room.

Meditate and have your reflective moments in nicely decorated huts.

All these you can do at Mount Purro Nature Reserve.

If you’re looking for a quick getaway and escape the hustle and bustle of the city, then this place would be perfect. Sounds like a promotional campaign but really, if you’re into nature and trees, like me, you’ll appreciate Mount Purro which is located at Barangay Calawis, Antipolo City, and is about an hour and a half away drive from Quezon City. It started as a reforestation area now it boasts of facilities and activities suited for everyone.

Truly, we always go back to nature for healing and rejuvenation. I just wish we could bring more of nature, greeneries, and trees to the city so we don’t have to go somewhere else to escape the concrete jungle.

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A Green Mind

I woke up thinking how using the AC demands more electricity which primarily is sourced from coal thereby contributing to carbon emissions hastening climate change. But William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s book, “The Upcycle” claims that this is more of a design rather than an environmental problem. If the energy comes from a renewable source, then you don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the comfort provided by an air-conditioned room.

Same thing with taking a long shower. Nothing wrong with that if the water is recycled.

And this applies to products which don’t necessarily have to end up as trash if they follow the cradle to cradle concept, a holistic and waste-free way of manufacturing.

While reading this fascinating book in the bus, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder how difficult it is to pocket the tiny bus ticket that people put more effort in stuffing it in corners and crannies. Don’t get me started on the supposed inspection of these bus tickets. We do know there’s a better system and is already existing at that. Another design flaw.

Would it make a difference if I confront them? I once did that in the jeepney when this full grown, obviously educated woman, just mindlessly threw the garbage on the floor and I told her, “That’s not the garbage bin.” She just looked at me innocently as if she didn’t do anything. And that’s what I end up doing when encountering such individuals. Stare at them spitefully and they stare back confused wondering what they did wrong.

Littering is bad and everybody knows it but we’re just too lazy to care, that is, if we care at all.

Speaking of trash, another frustration I have is with straws and plastics. When you say, “No straw/no plastic, please” vendors or servers sometimes find that amusing. I was told, “Remove the straw yourself.” So when I see my friends using straws, I judge them, a little. I observed that for most people, these things are not a big deal.

How about health? We know that fastfood, processed food, and too much meat is bad news. Bad for the environment, too. But it doesn’t matter. It’s what’s available, it’s cheap, and they taste so good, as well. I still eat fastfood sometimes because it’s that convenient. And real food is difficult to come buy these days. I was a pescatarian for a while wanting to be a vegetarian but options can be very limiting. Add to that the idea of micro plastics in my fish and pesticides in my veggies. Besides, according to “The Upcycle,” we should celebrate diversity and that includes diversity in diet. So right now, being a flexitarian is the best option for me.

I don’t know if it’s just a trend but more and more people are turning to organics, and healthy living, and being more mindful and more sustainable in their ways. This is the right thing to do but who am I to tell people how to live their lives. As zero waste advocate Lauren Singer puts it, what environmentalists can do is to show everyone that there are other better options.

I remember the quote from Inception: “An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow.” So I guess my goal, since it’s Environment Month and all, is to plant seeds of green ideas and hope that these would grow in the minds of people. Because the truth is (and this is not some kind of an alternative fact), environmentalism, this seemingly hopeless idealism, is for humanity’s survival.

A Plastic Tale

I’m cheap, easy to manufacture, and you could mold me into any form you wish. You can use me once and throw me away and forget about me altogether. That, unfortunately, is not the end of my story. Because apparently, I can outlast your life and be here forever.

Sometimes, I get recycled but mostly I’m buried or dumped or kept somewhere away from your sight. Other times, you burn me and I give my last breath of life through toxic fumes. Or I let the wind carry me up in the air or I just float endlessly into the sea.

Life in the ocean can never be lonely. I’m reunited with all my kind at the North Pacific Gyre where we form a garbage patch. And thanks to the biggest plastic polluters, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, we could soon conquer the ocean.

I feel guilty, though, as I cause the death of countless animals when they mistake me for food or when they get entangled in my deadly embrace. And ever pervasive, I can break down into micro plastics ending up in your plate of fish.

I know it’s more convenient to use plastic bags instead of reusable ones. Or to buy bottled water instead of carrying a refillable bottle. Or choose disposables instead of washing up. Or drink through a straw instead of simply sipping one’s drink. But there’s already too much of us that maybe it’s about time that you reduce your plastic consumption.

Hey, I won’t take it against you. It’s the least I could do considering that May is the Month of the Ocean. And if it’s not too much, maybe you can even sign the petition calling for ASEAN to unite and act to protect the oceans from plastic and marine debris.

Every single piece of me ever made still exists today. However, I’ve stayed long enough and I’m ready to move on.

Greenpeace whale installation

Aesthete

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I like to stand at the summit
And gaze at the sea of clouds
The magnificent mountain ranges
The sunset
The sunrise
I like how the cool wind embraces me
Tousling my hair
Like gentle hands giving its affectionate gesture
Dancing through the branches and leaves
Making them wave their hello
I like the refreshing smell of the air
The scent of wood, and soil, and vegetation
I like how the birds tweet a tune
And crickets and night creatures with their orchestra of sounds
I close my eyes and stretch my arms
Taking it all in

Aesthete (adj.): Someone with deep sensitivity to the beauty of art or nature.

Do you enjoy nature, too? If so, do your part. Be stewards of the environment. Happy Earth Day everyone!

An Energizing Weekend

Riding a solar-powered trike, boating and kayaking, lake clean-up, stargazing, fire flies watching, good food, plus, a yoga session. All these became part of my awesome weekend getaway when I attended the MakeSense Retreat held at Pusod Taal Lake Conservation Center, at Lipa, Batangas.

It took us less than two hours to get to Lipa City from Manila and once there, we got to ride sunEtrike’s solar-powered vehicle which brought us to Pusod Center. Pusod is an environment group that aims to protect the Taal Volcano Protected Landscape by engaging local communities and helping them find livelihood while taking care of nature. The Center was the venue of the MakeSense Retreat, a gathering of social entrepreneurs and community builders who had meaningful discussions on social entrepreneurship and other opportunities for engagement.

The participants also had a chance to go boating and kayaking at the Taal Lake. Sadly, we discovered a lot of garbage in the lake so we decided to do a mini clean-up. I wish people could do a better job at managing their trash.

In the evening, it was a treat to look at the stars and watch fireflies dance. To enjoy the calmness of the lake. And to have a friendly visit from a frog and a beetle.

Of course, let’s not forget the sumptuous dishes prepared by Ka Betty. The pako (fern) and pansit-pansitan (shiny bush) salad was my favorite.

The following day, we welcomed the morning with a yoga session which was a good workout. I felt like I had a better posture after that.

It was nice to get to do all these activities with like-minded people. People who are driven and passionate. People who do their part to make this a better world.

With all the bad things seemingly sprouting from everywhere, there are still beautiful places, good people, and wonderful experiences to appreciate. And so I went back to Manila energized with a happy body, happy spirit, and a happy heart.

Photos from Rachel Eilbott and Marvin Almonte